Table etiquette a mouthful for some

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‘Distasteful’ manners give food for thought

IF YOU were caught using your finger or tongue to clean your plate when I was at school as a boarder, you were instructed to report to the master on duty, given four of the best and told in no uncertain terms not to do it again. 

Okay, I draw the line at licking my plate but do I clean my plate with my finger? Of course! How can you let that lovely gravy be washed down the sink? What’s more there is nothing wrong in the privacy of your own home to eat with your fingers too. Mind you, I wouldn’t pick up a piece of fish from my plate in a restaurant but isn’t breaking off a piece of hake and dunking a fat chip into tomato sauce a normal part of a fish meal at home?

And I don’t hesitate to pick up a chop or a drumstick and gnaw at the bone when I can’t get the last of the meat off with a knife and fork!

But lest you think I’m a complete bumpkin, I do place great store on good manners. When our kids were growing up we did our best to instil a certain level of socially acceptable behaviour at the table, such as holding the knife in the proper way instead of like a pencil with the top of the shaft resting in the crook between the thumb and index finger; sitting up straight; elbows off the table; no talking with your mouth full and no, you may not leave the table until everyone has finished – that type of thing.

Reflecting in later years however, while there is no substitute for good manners; does it really matter if we tilt our soup plates towards instead of away from us? And is it really that bad to eat pizzas with your fingers? After all, it saves on the washing up.

Mind you, it’s hardly surprising that so many young people these days talk and chew with their mouths full, sprawl across the table to grab the salt and in the process swish their sleeves through the soup. Let’s face it, a large number of them have no table manners at all because they’ve hardly ever eaten a family meal at a table but slumped on the floor or the sofa in front of the telly.

So to them, let me explain: the rules against eating with your fingers – or licking your plate – when in company, have little to do with the finer points of social etiquette. They are there simply because the great majority of us find the lack of consideration for others revolting. And talking of food, the word is that one of the local television dealers is giving away a bag of onions free with every television set sold – to go with the tripe!

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